The sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or cot death is the sudden unexpected death of an apparently normal healthy child in whom a subsequent detailed post-mortem examination reveals no cause for the death. A baby is put to bed and some hours later is found dead. There is no evidence of disturbed sleep and no cry is heard.
SIDS affects two out of every 1000 children between the ages of one month and one year. The cause is unknown, but there are many theories. It is not infectious or contagious, nor are the deaths due to suffocation, choking or allergies. It occurs in both bottle and breastfed babies and there is no relationship between immunisation and cot death. There is no evidence that vitamins, dietary supplements or any medication can prevent the syndrome. If one baby in a family dies from cot death, there is some evidence that subsequent babies are at a higher risk. Another theory implicates high body temperatures due to over wrapping or dressing a baby, so that the baby cannot sweat effectively.
Babies who sleep face down are more susceptible to cot death. It is strongly recommended that babies should never be placed on their stomach to sleep.
It is imperative that the parents of a cot death baby receive adequate and immediate counselling by trained professionals as they develop an acute sense of guilt, thinking that they are in some way responsible and fear that someone will blame them for the death of their child due to neglect or mistreatment, but this is not so. Other children in the family will also be affected because they are often unable to understand or accept the tragedy.
Some parents have found their child on the verge of death, lying blue in the cot and not breathing, and rousing them has started breathing again. After such an event, affected babies can be monitored by a sensing device that sounds an alarm if breathing stops for more than a few seconds. Only a very select group of infants require this type of care.
Interestingly, the incidence of cot deaths halved in the decade between 1990 and 2000, but the reason is not known.